Goodbye and good riddance to rubella, which has joined smallpox and polio in being completely eradicated from the Americas. The disease, also known as German measles, has devastating consequences for unborn children, including blindness, deafness, and heart defects, when pregnant women catch it in the first trimester. In a big US outbreak in 1964 and 1965, 11,000 fetuses died and 20,000 children suffered serious birth defects, the New York Times reports. The last endemic cases reported in the Americas were in Argentina and Brazil in 2009 and health chiefs now say that in a "historic achievement," the Americas are the first region in the world that can be declared free of the virus, reports the BBC.
"Although it has taken some 15 years, the fight against rubella has paid off," the director of the Pan American Health Organization tells the Times. "Now, with rubella under our belt, we need to roll up our sleeves and finish the job of eliminating measles as well." She says the eradication shows "how important it is to make vaccines available even to the remotest corners of our hemisphere." Health authorities aim to make Europe the next rubella-free region by the end of this year, and hope to make the disease extinct worldwide by 2020, the Huffington Post reports. (Smallpox is the only infectious human disease to have been completely wiped out, but the deadly cattle virus rinderpest was eradicated in 2010.)